red bull augmented racing screengrab 1

Think of your favorite racing game. A game so engrossing you played for hours on end mastering every track, learning the entry to every turn as well as its apex and exit line. You’ve run it so many times you could do it in your sleep.

What if the number of race tracks on that game always increased and the courses were all completely different? What if they had configurations you created or ones created by other people? Other than the elephantiasis-sized blisters on your thumb, you’re talking about an infinite amount of fun.

That’s what Red Bull Augmented Racing offers. Available for the iPhone, the app is free - as in gratis, as in zero pennies. All you need is some imagination and a few Red Bull cans to use as waypoints. The rest is connect the dots and voila – you’ve got yourself a track. If that last comment doesn’t make any sense, read our first article on the app for the low-down.

This time around, we sat down with John Swords from Circ.us, the game’s developer, to get a bit more technical and find out how they converted an Apple product into a track sculptor and handheld steering wheel – meaning less blisters, more fun.

What were some challenges developing the game for the iPhone?
I would say balancing the quality of graphics with load time. Almost all of the other racing apps available for the iPhone come preloaded with all the tracks and scenery and are huge in file size. Games like Real Racing 2 look good, but at 300 MB, it takes a while to download.

Red Bull Augmented Racing is different because the tracks and scenery are designed by players, uploaded to the Red Bull servers, and then downloaded and rendered each time a player wants to race. In the end, I think we struck the right balance between load time and art complexity.

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What were some of the advantages?
Two big ones. The first being that Apple makes great hardware. In fact, through the process of prototyping this game, we found that the sensors in the iPhone 4 are as accurate as $10,000 sensor rigs used by NASA! Secondly, the iOS platform is great for building an advanced application like this because Apple controls both the hardware and the software. With only a few versions of the iPhone/iPod Touch, we can focus on making a complex and engaging experience and not have to devote as much time to compatibility issues like we face on the Android platform.

Which sensors on the iPhone are used in the map creator?
During prototyping, we used the gyroscope, accelerometer, and compass. We found that the information from these sensors was good, but not quite as reliable as we wanted. We then added the camera on the back of the device for what we broadly refer to as “computer vision”.

What is computer vision?
Computer vision is a way to use a video feed coming from a camera to identify objects in the viewfinder and determine which direction the phone is moving. We use this technology to make the phone “see” the tops of the Red Bull cans so the cans can act as waypoints. At the same time, we use it to track the movements of the phone as the track layout is being traced. The movement data from computer vision is merged with the other sensor data and then the track is generated.

Does the track creator software trace a straight line between two cans?
We wanted the tracks to look like curved roads so all the lines go through a smoothing process after the sensors are done collecting information.

Are there power-ups or modifiers on the track?
Yes, there are speed boosts that will cause temporary acceleration. We also have obstacles to avoid that can slow racers down.

How and where will they be placed?
Speed boosts are placed at optimal driving positions across the tracks. This rewards players who know where their wheels should be in all parts of a turn.

Will there be elevation changes or other features on the track?
Elevation will come into play at sharp turns. There is some banking of the track and there is also a wider shoulder area.

Building tracks can result in earning badges for designing popular tracks and racing will result in competitive badges for things like beating a friend’s track time.

How long will the whole creation process take?
Assuming you have already picked up some Red Bull at the store, you can build a track in just a few minutes. Coming up with a design you like and mastering the can-tracing process will take the longest at first.

Is there a minimum iPhone hardware requirement?
The app runs best on the iPhone 4 and the fourth generation iPod Touch. Building tracks is too much for the iPhone 3GS processor but players with the 3GS can still compete on the race track.

So it sounds like there will be two forms of competition, track building and racing. How will they be rated?
Players are encouraged and rewarded for track building and racing. Building tracks can result in earning badges for designing popular tracks and racing will result in competitive badges for things like beating a friend’s track time or competing in the most tracks. Each track will have its own leaderboard of times. There are main leaderboards that track players who have raced the most often, have the highest-rated tracks, and have built the most tracks.

What console racing game would you most compare Red Bull Augmented Racing to?
We wanted the driving experience to be instantly fun for all players. The controls are made simple so it can be easily understood on the first race. I find that realistic driving simulation games are often not ideal for mobile devices because people play them while moving about. It was important to me that the game be tolerant to subtle movements and changes in steering behavior. The result is something that feels more like Burnout and less like Gran Turismo.

Follow @redbull on Twitter for up-to-the-minute info and updates.

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